Tag Archives: Magician’s Academy

Game Idea: Magic School Diaries

I finished NaNoWriMo this morning. What I wrote is definitely a first draft of Magical Girl Radiant Yuna, with a lot of flaws I’ll need to fix in the revision process, but also a lot of elements I really like. Right now I want to get into the stuff I was setting aside through November, including some blog posts like this one and some podcast stuff. There’s some pretty exciting stuff brewing, and generally lots of finger-crossing on my part.

Here’s yet another game idea that I want to blather about while I don’t really have time to properly work on it. A few years back I did a 24-hour RPG called “Hikikomori.” At the time I was reading a Japanese novel called Welcome to the N.H.K., which was a rather twisted take on the hikikomori phenomenon, where young men are basically refusing to engage with the world. Although the book had a cover by Yoshitoshi ABe and got adapted into a manga and anime, at its core it was more in a modern Japanese literature style. (Though the same author did a novel called “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge,” which had kind of a magical realism thing going.) Anyway, since I was making a game about intense isolation, it only made sense to me to have it be a game you play by yourself. That was how I hit on the idea of an RPG that’s a sort of fictional diary-writing exercise with some RPG elements involved.


In January of 2011 there was the RPG Solitaire Challenge, a solo RPG design contest. I don’t get much into design contests because they almost always manage to pop up when I’m buried in more important stuff, and this one was no exception. I came up with an idea I really liked though, and the other day when someone tweeted to me that they were having enormous fun with Hikikomori I got reminded of my other solo RPG idea.

For a long time I’ve found the idea of a school where people learn magic to be fascinating.[1] Harry Potter is the blindingly obvious example, and despite some issues[2] I’ve been a fan of the series for a while. There’s also a Japanese light novel series (with manga and anime adaptations, plus a tabletop RPG) called Magician’s Academy, which has lots of embarrassing anime fanservice crap, but also some interesting setting ideas here and there.

I’ve had the idea for the “Mage Academy” for quite a while.[3] It’s a present-day magic school in the U.S., and fairly new. Where most magic schools date back many centuries, the Mage Academy is barely 10 years old. Moreover, its founders specifically wanted to explore areas of magic those older schools were neglecting. Thus they’re doing stuff with techno-magic, as well as comparing the different magical traditions. Before the Mage Academy came along, basically anyone who wanted to learn about another form of magic was out of luck. A Western Merlinist wizard trying to learn Chinese qi magic would be in for the journey of a lifetime, and the great European schools would probably just turn away a Chinese sorcerer. In America there’s a bit of an American Gods thing where all these immigrants brought their magic with them, but the only magic school is on the east coast and tied up with the Freemasons, so most of the people who practice non-Western magic learn it through their families. Taking a cue from Magician’s Academy, the Mage Academy sits in a pocket dimension, though its physical entrance is anchored to an inconspicuous spot in the New Mexico[4] desert.


I haven’t quite nailed down the neologistic tag line for Magic School Diaries, but it would be a diary-writing role-playing exercise, where you follow RPG type rules to guide you through writing a Mage Academy student’s diary of his or her experiences at the school. I envision it letting you make your own character, but having a small number of clear archetypes that heavily influence certain aspects of play. (I hate how much Hogwarts-style houses make sense for that.) It would also have several pre-made NPCs that players interact with in different ways, giving it a little bit of a “visual novel on paper” aspect I guess. I’m eyeing using playing cards for randomness, both for the different ways you can use them, and because having a dedicated pack of cards that you keep in the box in a particular order is kind of an intriguing idea.[5]

[1]Really, I think there’s a lot of interesting and fertile territory in exploring the non-adventuring parts of fantasy type settings. I also want a game about working in a magic item shop, and a game that’s basically “Fantasy Oregon Trail: The RPG.”

[2]Some day when I have nothing better to do I’m going to write a fanfic about an American wizard who visits Hogwarts and is horrified to learn about all the bigotry and other deeply problematic things in Wizarding Britain. (“Wait, you don’t arrest people for using love potions? Seriously?”) He would also be completely and utterly uninterested in quidditch.

[3]I also have this whole idea for a story set there that involves a student mage who came from the distant future as part of a rather dubious time travel experiment. If I do the game I’ll have to make her an NPC though.

[4]“Land of Enchantment” indeed.

[5]The other day I started a thread titled “What can RPGs learn from board games?” There is a ton of stuff to think about there, though I think Magic School Diaries actually lends itself to being a book, at least insofar as it lends itself to being analog instead of digital.

Magician’s Academy RPG

Magician’s Academy is a series of light novels by Ichiro Sakaki. It’s about a school where people go to learn magic, but it has a wacky moe-infused sensibility. To give you an idea, one of the teachers built a machine called “Mimigar Z”, which caused most of the school to sprout animal ears. There’s also an anime adaptation called “Macademi Wasshoi!”, which is how I originally discovered it. It’s kind of a gratuitous, guilty pleasure, doubly so since the character designs (and the art for the light novels) were by BLADE.


Magician’s Academy RPG (or “MAR”) is an RPG from F.E.A.R. that adapts the light novel series using a tweaked version of their SRS house system. It’s the third game they’ve done that’s a light novel adaptation (the others are Kaze no Stigma and Shinkyoki Soukai Polyphonica). It’s one of those bunko (little paperback) format RPGs, a little over 400 pages, and I was able to order it through the local Kinokuniya for about $12 (where the Japanese price is 800 yen).

For this post I’m going to run through the stuff that makes it different from other SRS games I’ve read.

Character Creation
MAR uses SRS’ typical character creation scheme, where you pick out a total of 3 levels from 1 to 3 different classes, which in turn determines your attributes and what special skills you can pick from. What makes it different from other SRS games is that characters are a combination of a “Macademi Class” and a “Style Class”.

The three Macademi classes are Magician, Shinma (supernatural beings like angels, demons, etc.), and Irregular (people and other things with crazy powers). If you know the series, Takuto is a magician, Tanarot is a Shinma, and Suzuho is an Irregular. Under Magician and Shinma there are several Aspects. For Shinma these are the four elements, plus Chaos and Balance. For Magicians these are different kinds of magic (Enchant, Summon, Shield, Power, etc.)

Style classes relate to the character’s role in the story, things like Servant, Joker, Misfortune, and Artificial. Where Macademi Classes give a character skills representing special powers, the skills you get from a style class tend to be more meta-game. For example, SRS features “Appearance Checks” (登場判定), where the GM can have a player roll to see if his or her character gets to show up in a given scene. A Servant character can take the Allegiance skill to get a bonus to Appearance Checks if their master is also in the scene. On the other hand the “Misfortune” Style Class gives you lots of skills that let you take damage and such in place of other characters.

Impulse System
This is one of the most distinctive aspects of the game, though one I have mixed feelings about owing to how it’s implemented. It’s like they stumbled on something kind of like the aspects from FATE, but IMHO the implementation relies a little too much on GM fiat.

Each character has a set of twelve personality traits, arranged into pairs as follows:


Each class gives a list of personality trait ratings, and you pick one of your character’s classes as the base. From there, stuff in the game’s lifepaths and such and modify these numbers, usually by shifting a point from one side of a pairing to the other. For example, the “Everyday” table has a “Research” entry, which gives you -1 to Brave and +1 to Careful. There are also items that can affect personality traits, such as Bunny Ears (which are in the “Moe Item Table”), which give you +1 to Trustful.

In play, the GM can call for a player to make a Personality Check (2d6 plus a personality trait, against a difficulty of 12) to see if the character will in fact do something. So, if the characters are late for class and they come across a girl who needs help, the GM might call on a Compassionate check to see if the character actually lends a hand. Any time a personality check makes a character veer away from what the player wanted, the character gets an Impulse Point (衝動店), which the player can use for a host of fairly typical metagame effects. There’s also a special rule that once per session you can substitute Passionate in place of whatever personality trait the GM is asking for.

Chaos Chart
The Chaos Chart is a sort of random event table, intended for the GM to be able to throw something out to compensate for things going out of whack in the game. It has three charts, for the Beginning, Middle, and Ending phases of the story. All of the entries push things much closer to the ending, if not outright resolve it, and not a few of them have characters from the novels show up as well. (“Tanarot suddenly shows up, and resolves the incident. Go to Ending.”)

To be honest I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s the kind of setting where throwing in random stuff certainly makes sense, and I suppose that having the option to just say, “Oh, Tanarot took care of that. Now, about your characters going on a date?” fits as well. I like the idea of bringing the canon characters into the game–the setting is neat, but Tanarot and company are a big part of what gives the story its distinct feel–but needless to say I have mixed feelings about chucking them in as deus ex machina to fix things.

Other Stuff
Whatever one thinks of the house system approach of SRS, MAR does actually take advantage of its strengths. In particular, at the end of the book there’s a section on taking stuff from other SRS games (Alshard Gaia, Polyphonica, etc.), which would give GMs plenty of critters and characters to mess with.

There is a “World Section” that explains the setting, but it’s barely 12 pages. Especially given that it’s actually put out by the same publisher (Famitsu Bunko, though it at F.E.A.R. are both parts of Enterbrain), this suggests that they’re assuming people who buy the RPG will also be into the light novels. I ordered the first novel in the series along with the RPG, and the two certainly look like they belong together. The book has brief bios of the major canon characters (and Hapciel), but no actual stats.

On the whole, this looks like a neat little game, though you clearly have to be on board with the game having a very strong GM role to really enjoy it as written. If there was an English version of this, I’d most likely be willing to give it a spin, but on the whole I think I’d rather use a crazy Maid RPG variant. Not unlike Penguin Musume Heart, while watching Macademi Wasshoi I kept feeling like I was watching something that runs on Maid RPG’s physics engine.